Updated November 2023 (ongoing update for clarity)
In this case study, you’ll discover how we transformed a legal services website’s SEO, resulting in a dramatic increase in organic traffic.
Client Engagement and Project Onset
My journey with this ongoing client began in April 2019, initiated by a late-night call on a Saturday. It came from a message that started on People Per Hour, this legal services provider entrusted me with a 16-month SEO project, operating within a set monthly budget. (Still Ongoing)
History Of The Site
This site dates back to 2009 and looking at some of the redirects was probably built using HTML. At some point it was eventually moved over to WordPress. Looking at historical data on Ahrefs and other software tools this site has never really ranked for anything.
The services they provided back in 2009 are very different to what they provide today. (Data acquired via WayBackMachine) It wasn’t until 2012 the services they provide now first appeared on the website.
They had used various agency’s, freelancers over the years but still no traffic. They had no historical data or reports from the other people they hired. It would have been a nice to have so I started collecting my own data.
At this point back in November 2019 the site averaged around 12 organic clicks a day. (less than 100 a week)
Initial Steps: Site Audit and Strategy Development
The project started with a thorough audit using Ahrefs and SERanking, followed by a meticulous manual review. This comprehensive approach allowed me to gather extensive data, laying the groundwork for my strategy.
What was noticeable is that the service pages hardly got any organic traffic at all. (One of my theories is that in the past backlinks were pointing to the homepage and not the service pages)
I store all the data in my Google drive and give access to the client. I like to give transparency to what I am doing whilst working on the site.
Stage 1 & 2 Process
Stage 1: Getting The Basics Right
Thankfully, the site had no major technical issues. My first task was optimising over 200 articles with best-practice SEO techniques. This took around 3 months to complete with all the articles and service pages.
All the changes were basic changes to ensure that the SEO title and meta descriptions aligned with the page intent. To the articles/blogs subheading were added along with reducing sentence’s length.
Stage 1 Results
No change in the traffic at all. My first thoughts on the content from the beginning was that it was poor and thin in word count. (I did want to delete the non performing content but at the time this was my largest/first commercial contract)
Stage 2: Enhancing Site Connectivity with Internal Links
Initial internal linking on the site was inconsistent and lacked clear direction. We revamped this, ensuring each link was purposeful and contextually relevant.
A lot of the articles were orphaned (No incoming internal links) and no outgoing internal links to support the service pages.
After categorising the articles I began adding internal links to the appropriate service pages. I was allowed to tweak article pages to a degree but I could not change anything on the service pages. All internal links coming from service pages had to be natural, which proved difficult with the content I had.
Stage 2 Results
Again very little impact, the impressions had increased a little over this period. However, organic traffic remained about the same.
Stage 3: Content Cull
It took some time to convince the client that removing non performing content would improve the website performance. I first viewed the content to see if it could be combined with other content first. Only then would I set it to draft to later delete. (First draft status incase further down the content audit I could see a purpose for it)
After the content audit I had combined/repurposed or deleted over 60 articles.
Stage 3 Results
Stage 3 Results
Things had began to change, there were a lot of articles on the sub category services they provided targeting one location. There were around 6 to 8 of these articles and they all had some content crossover points.
I put all these articles onto a new URL (May 20) targeting the main service and the location. The next stage was to remove the duplicate/crossover content, add subheading and apply best On Page tactics.
Gradually this combined post started to rank. It slowly climbed the rankings for, Service + Location. Eventually it hit position 1, finally something that had really moved the needle. There were other combined articles that made a difference but not as significantly as this one.
Stage 3 Changes
It wasn’t all plain sailing because once it got to number 1 the client wanted it to be perfect. (Peers) So the team of writers ensured that everything was grammatically correct and it was factually correct to the law. (I did not change the content only removed some and it was their content in the first instance)
At the same time they decided to update the main service page. Cannibalisation started to happen at the beginning of August 2020. I started to document the decline late in August.
The location article is steady in August 2020 but by September the national article gets picked up by Google. (Re-Rank) The impressions start to increase on the national (Service Page) as they begin to decline on the location.
At the same time you can see the decline of on page queries on the location article.
I never recovered the cannibalisation of the location page and there is a case study link below.
Stage 4: Content Creation
The service pages were still not performing so we decided to focus on long form articles. I was given a set of terms they would like to rank for. I started by auditing the SERPs, manually (Today I used paid software to scrape the SERPs) and collecting data on the top ten competitors.
Once I complied all the data I would send them a content brief on what they needed to rank. This included the suggested subheading along with the word count between each subheading. Along with additional keywords that should appear in this article.
I repeated this process for around 20 different keywords for different service areas.
Stage 4 Results
Some of the results performed fantastically and reached position 1 in the national rankings. One particular article at its peak it was generating over one thousand organic clicks a week. ( 4 thousand a month)
Even though the same method was used in making all of the content briefs the results were never the same. Some generated lots of traffic and those they did nothing I revisited again to update the brief.
As you can see below the traffic started to increase.
There were no active backlink campaigns used in building this traffic. In the early days to kick start the traffic some web2 links were built. The site already had a reasonable healthy backlink profile so I decided not to buy links. Yes we lost some number one positions when competitors had quite obviously bought links to ink above us.
I am hoping that one day Google will ignore all links from link farms. When researching the competitors backlink profile (In the legal niche) I quite often come across links from sites that are very high. However, after seeing a lot of these sites this one shocked me, the site had one hundred and seventy million plus outbound links. (170,777,849)
Measurable Impact: Traffic and Engagement
Comparing snapshots from June 2019 and October 2020, we observed a 253% increase in impressions and a 1440% increase in organic clicks. This growth continued steadily, as evidenced by our Google Analytics data.
Sustainable Growth and Adaptation
By September 2021, the site had weathered a few challenges but showed consistent growth. My approach remained grounded in producing quality content and enhancing internal linking.
Results That Speak Volumes
By February 2023, my efforts culminated in nearly a million monthly impressions, with over 20,000 organic clicks (a month) on Google. Notably, the site achieved this with minimal backlinks and low domain authority, proving the effectiveness of my focused SEO strategy.
Google Core Update May 2022
There was a big traffic drop in May 2022 after the Google update which was quite worrying. The first thing you have to do is not panic. So the search was on to segment the traffic to see what exactly had dropped. ( rereading old notes to update my theory)
One factor could be down to the lack of E.E.A.T on this site. It is a long established domain but it’ is faceless, it has an about section and several office locations but it has no people on there. Without names and faces how can Google connect the dots of experience and expertise of the people who work there? If you do not have the people how can you build the trust. The authority comes with the well written articles from the content creators
Google Business Profile
At least some experience and expertise can be taken from the Google Business profile reviews. All the locations have postive reviews, there are a few random negative false reviews in some.
Why The Traffic Loss
Looking at 10 competitors closely matched to this client 6 of them had traffic drops at the same time. One was already recovering, the remaining 4 had actually increased the traffic share. The difference of the 4 going up, the immediate difference was these sites had 4 times the traffic of the other competitors.
The backlink profiles were also inflated compared to the losers in traffic. It seems they punished the small and rewarded the big. However, on closer inspection these firms did cover a wider range of disciplines, the articles had much more depth and did have multiple authors.
I have since complied 20 competitors backlinks to compare who has what. The results show that all the big firms share a lot of similar no relevant links from random publications. Did they all use the same paid link builders ?
There were also a lot of instances where it looked like there were no outbound links on a URL, that was until you inspected the HTML.
Whilst researching these links I did look at the outbound links from the linking sites. It wasn’t uncommon to see millions of outbound links. The biggest one I have seen so far had 170 million outbound links. (I suspect it might be a link farm!)
One of the first things I started doing was removing non relevant subheadings. The writers had a habit (every article) of placing a random subheading in the articles, EG: Main Service Topic + Location. The next stage, although we did not have the depth of knowledge I ensured that every article was linked to additional resource on said search term .
Lead them on a journey of initial query, what possibilities could be done to help them with their situation and possible defences. Then ultimately if it all went wrong the possible consequences of their actions.
Lessons Learned and Moving Forward
This case study reinforces the power of fundamental SEO practices, the value of content quality over quantity, and the impact of well-thought-out internal linking. It highlights that consistent effort, rather than quick fixes, leads to sustainable online growth. We’ve learned the importance of adaptability and staying updated with SEO trends, ensuring my strategies remain effective amidst the ever-evolving digital landscape.
- Communication: Not regular enough with the client. Content went on to be produced without any input from me. This lead to cannibalisation issue which I am still dealing with today.
- Content Audit: The thin content and non performing content should have been combined or culled earlier in the process.
- Systems: My systems & processes were not robust enough to track all the work. I now make ongoing changes to refine my process to make me more productive in executing tasks.
Hours Per Month
- 50 (18 Months)
- Now, 25 (covid)
- Legal Services
Issues After Audit
- Thin Content
- No Internal Linking Structure
- No Focus on Keywords
- No Content Direction
- SE Ranking
- SEO Testing
- Keyword Insights
- Also Asked
- Provide by Client
- Legal Firms (National)
- People Per Hour
- Freelance Developer
- Self Hosted – WP Engine
Lighthouse Performance Score
- Web 2
- Keyword Ranking Report (Monthly)
- Google Business Profile (Phone Calls to Each Location Monthly)
- Invoice: Has detailed description on work done on the hours used.
Even though it has been over 4 years the contact with the client has been sporadic. This resulted in cases of cannibalisation for this site, and you can see the effects on this case study on cannibalisation.
The actual service pages on this site have never performed well. My next study on this site will be on the proposal to restructure the URL’s so that the service pages do perform.
Low converting traffic: After the last 24 months the client decided to stop offering some services in this niche. The traffic was there but perhaps it was not the correct type of traffic. Thats because the conversion rates were poor, it meant the staff would spend time on the phone with potential clients that did not convert.
So that prompted to remove the service sections from the website. The traffic is nowhere near the volumes it was at its peak, watch this space to see the next stages of progress.